As the entire photography community gears up for the 2010 FotoFest Biennial, we are all thinking about this year's theme: Contemporary U.S. Photography. With this in mind, the spot team began developing this current issue along similar lines. In Looking at Ourselves, we explore the variety of who we are and what we share in contemporary U.S. society. Madeline Yale explores the ambiguous sense of belonging and relatedness in the work of Anthony Goicolea. This theme is further illuminated in the portfolio of Dennis Yermoshin as he documents his family's transition to the U.S. from Azerbaijan. Edward Osowski's essay captures the alchemic southern imagination of Keith Carter's photographs while Bill McCullough's portfolio offers a humorous look at our strange rituals. In our spotlight, where we showcase the work of one HCP member, Peter Brown introduces us to Sharon Joines and her images of rural Texas culture. Tracing our photographic roots a bit, Dr. Jorg Colberg interviews W.M. Hunt about his collection of vernacular images, RE: groups, and Igor Alexander explores ruptures and continuities in photographic practice since 1960 with Yasufumi Nakamori's current exhibition at the MFAH. Looking forward as well, in the first installment of our ongoing series about the Houston photography community, Deborah Bay provides an overview of all the Houston galleries who represent and support photographers. We also turn the lens (or pen) towards our-HCP-selves with an overview of "What's Happening at HCP" by our new executive director Bevin Bering Dubrowski, and book reviews of two recent publications by HCP members: Looking at the U.S. 1957-1986 by Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss and Hard Knocks by Shelley Calton.
Looking at Ourselves is a fortuitous issue for a visual sociologist to come on board and I am delighted to be heading up the spot editorial team! Much thanks goes to David Crossley, Peter Brown, Paul Hester, David Jacobs, Paul Zeigler, and Jeff DeBevec for their long-standing support and diligence in keeping spot running for nearly thirty years. In recent years, spot has also been fortunate to have the insights and innovations of Madeline Yale, Toby Kamps, Ebony Porter, Bevin Bering Dubrowski, and Mary Magsamen who have all left the publication in good stead. On the nuts and bolts side of the editorial process, Jason Dibley and Maria Ciepiel have been indispensible. And I do not know where we would be without the brilliant visual magic of Antonio Manega, the designer who is the mastermind behind spot's stellar "look."
Our plan is to continue to develop spot as a visually stunning, informative resource for not only the Houston photography community but anyone anywhere who loves photography as much as we do here at HCP! We welcome your feedback, story ideas, comments and suggestions.
Re-imagining Personal History: Anthony Goicolea's Related
by Madeline Yale
If we hold an early Daguerreotype in our hands, a shimmery ghost-like figure faces opposite, arrested in photographic form contained by glass and enshrined within its casing. A memorial trophy, an early Daguerreotype is a possession of a history past and a reference to social trends of an era. The evolution of these keepsakes before the turn of the 20th century spawned the business of vernacular portrait studios, an important period in the history of the medium when photography became a fashionable method for middle class citizens to cherish and parade their loved ones. When we gently rotate an older Daguerreotype with our wrists, the luminous figure transitions back and forth from the dead to the living. Likewise, when looking at a gelatin silver negative of a human face held up to a light source, the figure appears inert, waiting to evolve into a positive; what we perceive in our mind's eye is alive and, perhaps, more real. These acts of conversion suggest dichotomies in meaning and reveal the analog signatures of the media employed.
In his recent series Related, first generation Cuban-American Anthony Goicolea forms a series of visual binaries - black-and-white, left-and-right, negative-and-positive - to propose a series of metaphors about his familial and cultural history. On view at Houston Center for Photography from March 12 - April 25, 2010, Related exists in several parts. The artist forms a series of dualities referencing film-based wet photographic processes by re-drawing photographs of his family in negative and photographing them in positive. Placing these images in environments near his childhood homes, the artist then re-photographs his constructions. In addition to these environmental images, Goicolea constructs large landscapes of his interpretation of Cuba. Through the process of transcribing these images through several generations and visiting sites of ancestral importance, Goicolea mediates his lineage, nostalgically re-creating what is both real and imagined.
After the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, both paternal and maternal sides of Goicolea's family exited their homeland for the United States. A relatively affluent Catholic family struggling to live freely within a burgeoning Communist regime, the Goicoleas settled around Miami and Atlanta and began a new chapter. As newer generations were born, a mix of Spanish and English was spoken in their homes. While they maintained a continuity of Cuban and Catholic traditions, partial assimilation into American culture naturally ensued. What tangible evidence remains of the Goicolea's Cuban heritage are a few keepsakes including studio portrait images taken prior to 1961.
Using these black-and-white studio portraits as source material, Goicolea began the series Related in 2008. These vernacular images depict more than twenty of Goicolea's light-skinned maternal and paternal ancestors. Like the traditional Daguerreotype, the family members are styled in their best clothes for the camera's gaze, wearing the fashions of the era. Most relatives featured are within their formative years to youthful adulthood; the younger versions postured in informal attitudes which reflect their age, the older ones sitting in staged formality, more erect and reserved. The sitters' eyes usually focus on objects askance, with facial expressions ranging from resolute determinism to flatly optimistic. The stark studio backgrounds and vignetted lighting give supreme focus to the subjects.
Working in his Brooklyn-based studio, Goicolea carefully draws replicas of these family studio portraits in negative on Mylar or on canvas. This deliberate act of image reversal is both tedious and thoughtful, allowing the artist to reflect upon familial resemblances, to mentally convert figures into their polar opposites, and then recreate the transformed originals in pencil and ink. Family Geometry, a large ink drawing on blackened canvas, visually portrays the artist's family tree.
It is impossible to view Goicolea's drawings of these vernacular portraits without experiencing some degree of aesthetic shock. As in Aunt Diptych, Goicolea re-imagines his ancestors as apparitional beings, the eyes of whom are the most haunting features. In this new generation of pseudo-analog gelatin silver negatives, the images appear unfinished, resembling Surrealist blueprints beckoning to become actualized or enlivened. We are forced as viewers to conduct our own conversions of these people in our minds. Yet metaphorically, Goicolea's conversion makes sense: it references the artist's dislocation from his ancestral roots.
Goicolea chooses to create another generation of these studio portraits by photographing the negative drawings, creating duplicates, flipping these duplicates from left to right, and converting them to positive photographs. These newer generations are more obviously nostalgic and are paired with their doppelgangers. This "flipping" of images from left to right is curious; his mother's embroidered initials on Mother I diptych almost appear as a mistake. However, this reversal is intentional and decidedly photographic. (A few examples exist of this kind of inversion in photography, most notably Manuel Alvarez Bravo's 1931 Optic Parable and William Wegman's 1970 nhoJ.) As viewers, our initial discomfort with the negative image is subdued, through its juxtaposition with the positive complement.
Goicolea transported these family portraits to sites near his upbringing in the outskirts of Atlanta and Miami and re-photographed them affixed to telephone poles or trees. These environmental portraits are deadpan constructions; straightforward depictions of Goicolea's family in unsympathetic daylight. These portraits suspend his family in an indeterminate state, alluding to an important phase of migratory transformations.
The pain of loss is strongly evident in this portion of Goicolea's Related, yet it also alludes to challenges of immigration and assimilation. Fastened to trunks, the family portraits become missing posters or wanted ads. Additionally, the telephone poles resemble Christ on the cross, a Catholic allegory referencing an experience which is both personal and universally experienced amongst immigrant populations.
Anthony Goicolea is the first of his family to visit Cuba following their escape in 1961. In May 2008, Goicolea spent two weeks photographing sites of ancestral interest, and attempting to locate old family friends. Using rough maps drawn by his family, Goicolea found landmarks in various stages of decay and was unable to make any family contacts. In the act of searching for these familial connections, Goicolea's longing for a sense of the place echoed in his family's romanticized accounts was unrequited.
Out of this cathartic expedition, Goicolea created a series of landscape images of contemporary Cuba. In Day for Night, a mixed media piece featuring a dilapidated art school on the outskirts of Havana, Goicolea inverts the source imagery by darkening a
daytime sky, which contains drawn trajectories of hurricanes that passed through Cuba since 1961. Other images are equally romanticized, where the artist's drawings alter his family's remembered landscapes and suggest architecture of the past or metaphysical reconstructions.
From its initiation, Related is quite personal; it tells a complex story about Goicolea's heritage including stories of loss, alienation and assimilation. The constructions intersect vernacular studio photography with fine art, thereby moving beyond the traditional definitions of photography and notions of authorship. Using these techniques, Goicolea challenges the viewer to navigate within a language of ancestral references, constructed mythologies, and to unearth metaphors about his Cuban-American experience, which are embedded in each layer of his artistic process.
Visual Memoirs: the alchemy of Keith Carter by Edward Osowski
The exhibition Unseen and Rediscovered and its companion publication were presented by the Art League of Houston (Sept. 18 - Oct. 30, 2009) to celebrate Keith Carter being named "Texas Artist of the Year" by the Art League, the first photographer to be given this honor. This exhibition also prefaced three other events in 2009: the publication of Fireflies (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009) and two concurrent exhibitions at the Witliff Collections at Texas State University, San Marcos (Oct. 17, 2009 - March 13, 2010). And in 2010, Carter has been awarded the Lenses of our Perception Lecture by the Visual Studies program at the University of Houston. He will deliver the lecture the evening of March 24, 2010 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Choosing to avoid the predictable expectations and pitfalls of an exhibition of "greatest hits," Carter and his wife Pat presented something fresh and unexpected. They selected from nearly forty years of work, thirteen images that ranged from 1970 to 2001 and another twenty-one made between 2008 and 2009. The range of work is large; one might have wished for greater concentration, but the variety cannot be faulted.
Space, here, does not allow a close look at each of the five sections that divided the exhibition and catalogue. However, each section presents tantalizing hints of bodies of work left to be exhibited more fully. In Vintage, which gathers seven of his earliest images, one observes Carter training his eye by looking at American masters. In Ear of Corn and Ranchos de Taos (both 1972) Carter experiments with the visual vocabulary of artists as wide-ranging as Wynn Bullock, Paul Strand and Ansel Adams. The romantic delicacy of Bernice Abbott flavors Toy with No Child and Walker Evans' example can be seen in Pine Springs Cafe (both 1972).
Portraits, the second section that includes six commissioned portraits, includes Horton Foote, another Texas artist whose approach to story-telling finds a visual counterpart in Carter's picture-making. Foote's portrait also introduces the viewer to
what may be called Carter's signature style, the subtle interplay of in- and out-of-focus elements in the photograph. His is a way of dispensing with accurate and precise description for something that might be called the visual equivalent of feeling. This section also includes a wonderful example of just how well Carter employs indirection and suggestion. His portrait of W.B.Yeats offers the poet's writing desk and chair. Here, in photographic soft shadows and imprecise description Carter offers a "ghost" portrait of Yeats and asks the viewer to consider just what constitutes a portrait.
Unseen, the third section, offers examples of previously exhibited bodies of work - one of which, Splendore di Capelli, or, in translation, The Splendors of Hair, emerges as a body of sensual work. While some of Carter's earliest images focused on women's hair - braided or loose and free - these new works suggest a greater concentration and closer attention to the erotic qualities implicit in the subject.
Arriving at the fourth section, Natural Histories, one finds Carter attempting something new in his picture making: These six photographs are the first works to be exhibited that employ computer manipulation. Existing negatives were scanned, digitized and computer manipulation was then used to produce the images and prints. He combines three bodies of work: pieces from a 1992 project, River Pierce; work from an unpublished series titled Boneyard; and images of lichens on grave markers from Holy Island, Ireland. Carter has used his previous work as starting points for a new narrative project and perhaps more significantly, as a new way of approaching the task of making art itself. Combining, recycling, manipulating and re-working have been the tools of artists for decades. Here Carter presents his efforts in this visual conversation.
The images from River Pierce, before their inclusion and re-imagining, were strange, frightening and disorienting. Here were naked men, women, and groups, often with their bodies covered with muck, making movements through a shallow river. What they depict - a group of human-like beings emerging from the mud of pre-history - makes them both fascinating and troubling.
The activities depicted are equally strange in the new pieces. Carter has stitched them into a body of work that was made at a "graveyard" for airplanes, a location in the Arizona desert where airplanes are shipped when their years of service have ended. Stripped of their function, they resemble beached whales or dead elephants in this odd barren landscape. On second glance, they might be giant versions of children's toys, enormous but powerless.
Layered into these collages are images of the lichens of Irish grave markers that give the impression of "found" images, which in their damaged state provide evidence of events out of time and out of history. These tableaus, made in secret, portray a post-apocalyptic world, one in which human-like beings scramble over objects they cannot identify. It is as if Carter is viewing these activities through a clearing in some forest and recording a world in collapse, a world in which civilization has disappeared, a world where technology no longer holds sway. One thinks of anarchy and destruction.
The dichotomies of civilization versus the untamed are the intellectual ideas becoming the creative building blocks that Carter combines in the concluding group, Ocularia. One notices immediately the size of these works (36 x 36), the largest he has ever exhibited. They are also his first exhibited works in color - the first, in other words, that move well beyond the subtle toning he achieves with photographs printed in his darkroom.
These works stand as gorgeous examples of abstraction, photographic versions of color-field painting. Carter has first used images made in the deep-reaches (and invisible to the human eye) of space with the Hubble Space Telescope. He has digitally added to them images of the interior of his own left eye, again a space invisible to the human eye without special tools. These are images of what lies beyond and within an eye which a year before was diagnosed with a vision reducing condition.
Natural Histories announced a dramatic shift in the materials and processes of Carter's picture-making. Ocularia takes those changes and adds something more. Carter's visual talent has always been to find the unusual, the enchanting, the unfamiliar in what is often right before his viewer's eyes. Here he brings us visions that he himself cannot see until they are digitized in his computer.
Additionally, Carter shifts the locus of his narrative concerns from something "out there" to the autobiographical, personal, and private. His body, his reduced vision, the disease that is compromising his viewing ability have become his focus, the place from which art is made. The names of these images, Perfect Storm or Celestial Havoc, (both 2009), introduce a new level of emotional drama and story-telling.
In the literature of the past two decades or so, a significant group of works have emerged that detail the personal, the most intimate, the most private events in their author's lives. These memoirs find a visual equivalent in art (one thinks of Kiki Smith or Nan Goldin) in which the self is revealed through what is most messy - blood, hair, bruises, scars - what might be termed a secular version of the passion of Christ.
Carter challenges his viewers to accept his inward turn. He also asks them to accept that the remarkable silence, present in so many of his photographs, does not hold his interest in these works. For these are wildly baroque images filled with storms and clouds and dramatic sunbursts. And what they most resemble are the heavenly skies of the Venetian painter Tiepolo.
An Interview with photography collector W.M. Hunt by Dr. Jörg M. Colberg
Ten years ago, New York-based collector, curator and consultant W.M. Hunt (Bill Hunt) began assembling his Collection Blind Pirate. Currently a selection, RE: groups, is being exhibited for the first time at HCP. Recently, he spoke at length with Dr. Jorg M. Colberg, editor of the contemporary fine-art photography blog Conscientious, about photography, collecting and this very remarkable and fascinating collections of images.
Colberg: Your collection of photographs of large, often anonymous groups might come as a surprise to many who wouldn't have expected something like this from someone who has been dealing (with) photography for a long time. Why these photographs? What is it that appeals to you?
Hunt: It even comes as a surprise to me. Part of collecting it has been subversive, so thanks for noticing that. There were a few group images in the larger-known Collection Dancing Bear - magical, heart-stopping images of people in which the eyes cannot be seen - that were spectacularly odd: Klu Klux Klan, John Greenleaf Whittier funeral, some press prints. They have been included in the major exhibitions of the collection in Arles, Lausanne and Amsterdam. But then some oddities have crept into the collection.
There were some E.J. Kelty images, one with Hunt Circus on the left of the image, and Bears on the right, and another of Madison Square Garden filled to the rafters. I also love Mole & Thomas, their amazing formations of thousands of service men and women creating the Liberty Bell or whatever. These images may seem to fall outside the criteria of the collection, but I was so attracted to them that they got acquired. Collectors make rules and then break them.
Colberg: All of these photos also show American groups. Why only Americans?
Hunt: It was arbitrary, initially, but then it eliminated the need to include any of those totalitarian regimes.
Also, there is something rambunctious about this kind of work. We deem most of this work as vernacular. It is, at the very least, a part of popular culture. I respond to its direct nature as a kind of American folk art.
Colberg: I like the idea of turning this kind of American folk art into something bigger. There always is this distinction between high art and the rest and your collection shows that there really is only a barrier in our minds. This seems to tie in with how people look on places like Flickr for images; it's like visual data mining. Your collection would indicate that such an idea is not really new though?
Hunt: I try to resist categorizing. It works or it doesn't work, no matter the intentions. There is increasing recognition for collectors as artists when they demonstrate a unique ability to gather together disparate works into a coherent grouping. The National Gallery and the Met have both done exhibitions of vernacular, snapshot collections belonging to private individuals.
My collecting really has had no agenda beyond the visceral. I saw it; I liked it; if I could, I bought it. As a dealer, the idea of stroking the collector through the purchase was initially completely foreign to me. I have never brought any sense of investing to this either. (This is colossally ironic because the collection is probably my annuity.)
Responding to your statement, though, collectors like Andre Jammes and Sam Wagstaff loved the "stuff" in photography, not just the classic beauties. Look also at Walker Evans' collection of road signs. Totally wild.
Colberg: There seems to be some rules that come with your collecting. Did you have these rules in place before you started, or did the rules evolve along your collection?
Hunt: Most often I imagine that one doesn't know they have a collection until they look at all the stuff in the room, and then they realize that it is a collection. I don't think I consciously set out to collect. Initially, I did look for a photograph of someone in which his or her eyes were covered, then I looked for another and so on. Then one day you look around the room and you've got a collection.
With RE: groups I discovered that there were more than I had imagined, enough for a show, and that they were indeed mostly American and mostly made before the contemporary era. Once I recognized the "unconscious" rule, it became a conscious rule. Part of the reason for maintaining the cutoff date is to avoid dealing with a living artist. No offense, but I deal with artists all the time. The Collection Blind Pirate gives me the latitude to work alone, in monologue as opposed to dialogue. It's funny, but I was showing the RE: group photographs to the photographer Nadav Kander last week and he made a comment about them, that they lack tension, and I recognized that I haven't had any sort of real conversation with anyone about these pictures. Houston will be a major unveiling for me.
There is a second guide point that the groups either be orderly - the image should look like a musical score with the blacks and whites mixing in an engaging design - or that there be total chaos like ants spilling out over the ground. Either the group acts in a coordinated fashion strictly outlined by the photographer, or it is a mess and the photographer must decide how to capture that.
Colberg: I am focusing on the collector bit so much, because I just finished reading some books on collectors, and in each of the cases mentioned in those books the collectors are usually driven by very strict rules. If you don't mind, one more question about the collection itself: Do you actually look at what you have regularly? In those books, many of the collections are so huge that the collectors have no time to look at what they have. And some don't even know what they have; they re-find stuff in their own collections occasionally. Does that happen to you?
Hunt: Your instinct is correct that I don't actually look at the collection piece-by-piece very often, even much at all. There is a good assortment around the apartment, but do I take them down and consider them for a while? No. I do, however, play the collection through my mind's eye all of the time. And I do look at the collection as a whole. I literally stand there and think, "Wow, look at all of these pictures!"
At a walk-through of an exhibition of the big collection, a young student asked me, "Why do you have to own them?" Deathless pause. "Because then they're mine!"
Again, I stand in the middle of all of them and marvel at how strange it is to have become a collector. So much stuff. Last summer I kept having Collier Brothers fantasies that something would fall on my head.
I do have a theory about collecting that it has to do with a lack of nurturing in childhood. I asked a client how long he had been collecting. "7 years ago ... since my wife died." Heartbreaking.
You know, Joe Baio in New York? He was a child actor, and I would offer that he might have been robbed of a certain part of his childhood. The photographs are his way of handling that.
Collecting certainly has to do with insisting on a certain order in one's life.
Colberg: I actually don't know what it is about collecting. Why do I collect old plastic pocket transistor radios even though I never even listen to the radio? I have no idea.
Hunt: Maybe they're like shells and rocks? They feel good.
Colberg: So where/how do you find these photographs? Do you go to flea markets, Ebay...?
Hunt: I always maintain that the photographs find me. I found a killer photograph at the Rhinebeck Antiques Fair several years ago, The Radio City Music Hall staff, 1939. It is unusually large with everyone from the Rockettes to the ushers. It didn't look like much at the fair, but I framed it and "shazam!" I sold it to my neighbor and will always regret it, although she may loan it for the Houston show.
I look at antique markets and some flea markets, although Ebay seems to have killed that. Lots of times these photographs are in the wrong places, antique stores that have them as part of an estate. But Ebay has been a major source. I have lots of keywords and then I get an alert and I can look online.
Part of the growth of this collection is due to still having the collecting addiction and finding that keeping costs to a couple of hundred dollars doesn't break the bank. I am not as obsessed with this Collection Blind Pirate although it has gotten out-of-hand in a most remarkable way.
Colberg: Let's maybe talk about some of the images you have. If you would have to pick just one favorite which one would that be and why?
Hunt: The Klan. It is crazy. The idea that all of these men would assemble for a group "banquet style" photo and that some of them would forget their hoods and put napkins over their faces. Mind blowing. Insisting on anonymity in a photograph that is a representational report. Where in the U.S. was this made? Hanover ? Where? Chilling.
Colberg: Images like the Dance Club grouping, what appeals to you in those kinds of images? There must be thousands and thousands of those around.
Hunt: Undoubtedly, but there is only one with my parents in it, The St. Clair River Dance Club. I grew up knowing most of those people. There is a Sam Wagstaff story that the first picture he bought was a sports team photo he found at a flea market; it had his dad in it. Once upon a time with these images, someone knew all of these people. They were quite personal.
the Photographs of Bill McCullough by Tracy Xavia Karner
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts...
(Shakespeare, As You Like It)
As social beings, we seldom stop to think about the parts we play, the lines we deliver, or the roles we inhabit. Why do we engage in strange rituals of drama and performance? It is just this graphic, bizarre kind of human subtly that interests Bill McCullough. While other photographers may use the body as canvas (think Cindy Sherman) or create composed tableaus (e.g., Gregory Crewdson or Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison), McCullough finds human drama at its height in the "big huge popcorn machine of emotions, family, and kinetic interplay" of that common, yet strange ritual: weddings. "Weddings," McCullough explains, "with their amplified emotions, provide a continual array of situations for a photographer to capture. I view them as giant kinetic events; in that compressed atmosphere I am constantly moving because time is finite and the number of interesting situations seemingly infinite." McCullough has an instinct for the quirky side of social life. His images show the "other" side of the wedding performance - terrified grooms, unsupervised children, bored guests, bridal fury - layered within the elaborately decorated "set" of a church or reception hall. Weddings are the social drama in which most people play a starring role in at least once, and some times more, during their lives. We all know the shared script and have rehearsed our parts in this strange ritual. In McCullough's images we can recognize ourselves in many of the roles and laugh at the bizarre drama of our social theatre.
Ruptures and Continuities:
Photography made after 1960 from the MFAH Collection
by Igor George Alexander
In the summer of 2003, on the day before the July 4th holiday, the Whitney Museum of American Art opened the exhibition The American Effect. Guest curator Lawrence Rinder devised a way to invert the Whitney's stated mission of displaying American art by organizing a show of foreign artists who had created works about the United States. Rinder enlisted the aid of a young Japanese-born, American-educated lawyer with first-hand knowledge of the Tokyo art scene to help him find works for the exhibition. The newly minted assistant curator, Yasufumi Nakamori, found a number of works for Rinder, including a 1996 painting on a folding screen by Makato Aida entitled A Picture of an Air Raid on New York City. In the image, a World War II aircraft with the Imperial Japanese Army insignia circles over Manhattan, its landmark buildings on fire. Less than two years after the destruction of the World Trade Center complex, the show certainly received attention. Even the normally anything goes ArtForum ran a review that found the exhibition disturbing enough to declare it "hectoring and jejune."
The theme of the 2010 FotoFest, the thirteenth biennial in the series, is contemporary U.S. photography. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which has mounted many major exhibitions in conjunction with FotoFest, is presenting Ruptures and Continuities: Photography Made after 1960 from the MFAH Collection, a major photography show of nearly two hundred works from the museum's world-renowned, permanent collection chosen by Assistant Curator of Photography, Yasufumi Nakamori, who came to work at the MFA in February, 2008. The show, as Nakamori envisions it, examines "...how...European and North American-based photography practices spread throughout the world over time."
Continuities between photography and the art of painting have existed since the medium's invention; the Victorian master Julia Cameron's works often reference the style of pre-Raphaelite painting. Pictorialists such as the early Edward Steichen took cues from Impressionist painting and Man Ray's images reflect his Surrealist ties and so on. The MFAH exhibition includes three "mini-retrospectives," in Nakamori's words, of American photographers Richard Misrach, William Eggleston and Lewis Baltz. In particular, Baltz took cues from Minimalism, most directly with his images, taken in 1974, of building facades around Orange County, California. In the exhibit, Ruptures are represented by those artists who took
photography into directions unique to the medium - Conceptualists such as John Baldessari, Sherri Levine and William Wegman, working within the "cultural prison break" that was the 1960s in the United States.
Overall, the exhibition includes works by over eighty artists working from the 1960s into the present in twenty different countries, divided into five themes: Self-Performance (think Cindy Sherman); Transformation of the City (Eggleston and the powerful Chinese newcomer Sze Tsung Leong stand out); Directorial Mode and Constructed Environments (David Levinthal and others); New Landscape (Misrach and Baltz) and Memory and Archive (notably, La Fete du Pourim by the French Conceptualist Christian Boltanski).
This exhibition, with its over-arching meta theme, promises to be thought-provoking, suggesting that Houstonians can expect more fine work in the future from Nakamori.
Ruptures and Continuities: Photography made after 1960 from the MFAH Collection will be on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston from February 21 through May 9, 2010.
I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1982. My family and I came to America as refugees in 1991 as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh War, which began in 1988, shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow relocated us to Providence, Rhode Island. We did; like many other refugees, we had no preference. We were the first members of our family to come to America, so over the years my immediate family was instrumental in helping our extended family move to the United States. My family quickly developed strong friendships with other refugee and immigrant families that settled in Rhode Island, most of whom also came from Azerbaijan. These friendships slowly formed a social group, united by common culture.
Eleven years after I came to America, I began photographing my family and friends while enrolled in my first photography class at the university. The focus was to explore the different generations of Soviet immigrants and refugees who came to Rhode Island during the 1990's. By photographing my subjects in their daily environments such as their homes, their jobs and in their neighborhoods, I wanted to capture the relationships that had developed between these places and the people since they had moved to America. Fascinated with the idea that the foundation of America was built by immigrants, I wanted to explore the roles that we play in American life as workers, as parents, as siblings, as friends and as Americans.
This series is about a reconstruction of a life left behind. It is a portrait of my family and friends; a specific group of people who, due to the failure of the Soviet government, ended up in America. Through these photographs I explore the process of adaptation and the endurance of nostalgia, two unconditional aspects of immigrant life.
Looking at the U.S. 1957-1986 Photographs by Frederick Baldwin and Wendy Watriss
Looking at the U.S. 1957-1986 Photographs by Frederick Baldwin and Wendy Watriss Mets & Schilt uitgevers, 2009. 207 pp., $65
Thousands of contemporary photographers and art collectors know Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss as the high-energy couple who curate, organize and host FotoFest, the world's best international photo festival that takes place every two years in Houston.
What comes as a pleasant surprise, however, is to discover the tremendous photographic output that the two have generated themselves over the past 40 years, working both individually and collaboratively as photographers, journalists and activists for human rights and social justice.
An excellent retrospective book, Looking at the U.S. 1957-1986, offers an extended look at nearly three decades of cultural and political life in the United States. The work touches on some of the most important U.S. historical moments of the last half century such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Ku Klux Klan, Agent Orange, the Vietnam War Memorial, and more. They traveled with and photographed well-known figures from that era, including Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
They have also immersed themselves in local issues in various parts of the South. Over an extended period of 13 years of self-initiated investigations, they have documented rural life, poverty and the struggles for survival and dignity in small communities throughout Texas. The photos are rich in humanity and very quiet in drama. They are not typical news photographs. Instead, they reveal complex stories in a matter-of-fact way that is quite refreshing. The long-term personal involvement in their subject matter allowed them to photograph in a very intimate manner. And that close-up, relaxed reality keeps these photos alive and stimulating today.
Xavier Canonne, who organized this retrospective, writes in his introduction: "They worked in concentric circles, discovering and recording moments of daily life, the evidences of social class, and the
ceremonies - religious, scholarly, social and sportive - that shape collective existence and reflect its origins. Everything in this work has informative value: people's dress, their hair, their food, their way of standing in front of the lens or ignoring it... "
Each photo series is introduced by short, concise, insightful text written by the photographers themselves. In an excellent interview at the end of the book, Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss talk of many issues; they speak articulately and passionately about their personal beliefs. At one point, Wendy discusses their work in the context of the U.S. today:
What is depicted in these works is still relevant today. One of the young African American men who assisted Fred in working with the Civil Rights Movement in Savannah was the first black student to integrate Armstrong Junior College in Savannah. This man is now Mayor of Savannah. This story is very relevant to the current U.S. president, and what Barack Obama says he stands for.
The realities and results of the Vietnam War interconnect with much of what is happening to U.S. soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -and certainly the official treatment of veterans' health and psychological problems related to these wars and the first Gulf War.
Certainly, the histories and ways of life we photographed in Texas 2030 years ago continue to be relevant to contemporary political and social developments in Texas and the United States.
This book is an important reminder of the power of photography (and personal activism) and how it can affect positive change, directly or indirectly. Anyone who is interested in the history of the United States, human rights and documentary photography will find value in this work. t"
Hard Knocks: Rolling with the Derby Girls Photographs by Shelley Calton
Hard Knocks: Rolling with the Derby Girls Photographs by Shelley Calton. Foreword by Tracy Xavia Karner.
Kehrer Verlag, 2009. 96 pp., $38.
Shelley Calton's latest book, Hard Knocks (2009) is an outsider's look inside the contemporary Houston Roller Derby scene. Through a series of photojournalistic images, the female athletes appear as one might imagine: tough, sexual, intense women who skate hard, who adopt burlesque personas like "Agent Belligerent" or "disMae West," and who don't give much away. But looking beyond the expectations that roller derby may connote, this body of work is particularly revealing when situated in another context, one that reveals the nascent implications of Calton's seemingly straightforward project.
In the relatively short history of photography, there is a force with which ideas, subjects and formal languages recur. It is most evident in works such as After Walker Evans, an endeavor by Sherrie Levine that involved re-photographing a group of images made decades earlier by Walker Evans, or in Kenneth Josephson's series History of Photography, with its references to other photographers. These types of projects inevitably invite one to think about the original images that inspired them, as well as the relevance of their contemporary re-appropriation or re-appearance. In the case of Calton's book, there are at least two forebears to consider: GUAPA (Good Looking) by Tracey Moffatt and Carnival Strippers by Susan Meiselas. Reviewing these works as a triumvirate tells us something about how Hard Knocks adds to a larger dialogue about the practice of reading photographs.
Hard Knocks shares its subject matter, women's roller derby, with Moffatt's GUAPA (Good Looking), a project produced in 1995. Completed about ten years before Calton finished her photographs for Hard Knocks, GUAPA offers a more stylized, critical perspective on the sport. Moffatt,
an Australian artist who made her project while living in Texas, employed models to recreate the spectacle of violence that defines roller derby. Because the women in GUAPA appear against a white background, isolated from the context of the rink, the raw physicality of the sport becomes all that you see. The idea that roller derby is theatre was not lost on Calton while making Hard Knocks, but it also was not the primary interest. Her documentary approach toward the women of the Houston Roller Derby implies an attraction to the grit and the passion of the sport.
Decades before GUAPA and Hard Knocks, there was Susan Meiselas' Carnival Strippers (1976). As its title indicates, this book features women who strip and dance on the carnival circuit. Their profession, like roller derby, is based on an inherently physical, sexualized performance. The format of Meiselas' book, whereby images of the strippers in action comprise one section and portraits of those women are grouped in another, is mirrored in Hard Knocks. Calton begins her book with a dark set of portraits of nine women from the Houston Roller Derby;
then, she guides readers inside the rink. In both this book and in Carnival Strippers, the women take center stage in a series of less-than-glamorous scenes, their bodies sprawled and displayed before the camera without much affectation.
Among these three bodies of work about women, there is a common point of intersection and separation in the erotics of looking at such photographs. After Meiselas recognized her subjects as individuals with stories to tell and attempted to show them as anti-erotic subjects, and after Moffatt fictionalized and posed women to represent the artifice of performance, Calton seems to realize that her subjects, tackling gender differences and expectations through their sport, essentially help viewers to think about the naturalized, sexualized codes of looking at photographs. Hard Knocks acknowledges that there is a history to photography, and that it doesn't repeat itself. LT
Sharon Joines has lived in the small town of Wharton, Texas, for the past thirty-six years and has photographed Wharton and its surrounding county for the last five. Her work is wide ranging and her photographs are revealing, truthful and speak to this small community's breadth. They open the land and its people to the viewer in subtle and sympathetic ways and they are lyrically beautiful and often gently funny. According to Joines, photographing Wharton County is a lifetime project and given the considerable access and trust that she has developed over the years, an archive of depth has already begun to emerge. Wharton was home to the playwright Horton Foote who once advised Sharon in relation to her work, "Be sure to avoid theatrics." Horton Foote avoided "theatricality" in his plays which are transparent descriptions of life in Wharton. I think that Sharon Joines has done the same with her photographs. Quite simply, they show life as it is lived in this small but resonant part of our world.
This from Sharon Joines:
Wharton County; 60 miles southwest of Houston; population 41,000; 1090 square miles
When I first came to Wharton I was referred to as "that girl from Houston" and it fit, because I really was a city girl with a slightly superior attitude. After I married a native Whartonian I was called "Tom's wife." A few years later when our children were born, I was identified as their mother and shortly after this, people began to call me Sharon which I considered progress. Today, along with most of the people in and around Wharton, I have developed a deep respect and love for this place, its history and its people.
The true character of a place does not fully reveal itself until a relationship is built. It is also true that a relationship built on trust is not gained easily or quickly. The images I am making are a testimony to what I have come to believe make life in a small town unique. The experience has proven to be both liberating and full of lessons.
Since 2004 I have photographed the towns of Wharton, El Campo, Pierce, East Bernard, Boling, Iago, Glen Flora, Egypt, Bonus, Burr and Hungerford, to name a few. My purpose is to document Wharton County, recording the way the passage of time affects the place I call home.
Sharon Joines' Wharton County is on exhibit March 12 - April 25, 2010, at Stern and Bucek Architects, 1610 Commerce Street, Houston, Texas.